Obama seen naming Harvard prof as US arms buyer
WASHINGTON Feb 3 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to name Harvard University professor Ashton Carter to the Pentagon's top acquisition and technology job, possibly as early as this week, according to a source briefed on the process.
Carter, a former assistant secretary of defense for international security policy under President Bill Clinton, now teaches science and international affairs at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
One source closely following the process, said Carter's nomination could be announced "soon."
Defense analyst Loren Thompson, who has close ties to the Pentagon, said the announcement, which is being closely watched by U.S. defense contractors, might come this week.
Industry executives have been skeptical about Carter's lack of experience in the industry, but that may prove helpful, given concerns raised by lawmakers over the close ties that another top Pentagon nominee has to industry.
Almost immediately after announcing new ethics rules, the Obama administration waived them for Raytheon Co (RTN.N) executive William Lynn, who has been nominated to become deputy to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the No. 2 spot in the Defense Department.
Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, still has concerns about Lynn's nomination, said his spokeswoman Beth Levine. She said Grassley had not yet received any response to letters he wrote to Lynn and White House Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag. Any senator can hold up a nomination, at least temporarily, by lodging concerns.
If the administration is unable to answer Grassley's concerns and Lynn withdrew his nomination, there was still a chance that Carter could be nominated for the No. 2 spot, said one former defense official, who asked not to be named.
"Carter is a very smart and engaging person who is well equipped to bridge the gulf between science and policy making," said Thompson, an analyst with the private Lexington Institute.
Carter, who has published at least 11 books on issues ranging from missile defense in space to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, worked at the Pentagon from 1993 until 1996, and then for two years at the State Department, where he was a senior adviser on North Korean issues.
He worked closely over the years with former Clinton Defense Secretary William Perry, and both men served as advisers to Obama during his campaign.
Thompson said Carter, who holds a doctorate in physics from Oxford University, is an expert when it comes to the sophisticated technologies that the U.S. military needs.
"With Carter in the top acquisition job, it would be very hard for companies to mislead policymakers as to the true potential of their weapons systems," said Thompson.
Jim McAleese, a Virginia-based defense consultant, said Carter would need to quickly learn about $1.6 billion worth of arms programs, many of which face cost overruns or delays.
"He can establish his credentials quickly by finding one or two programs that are suffering from severe deficiencies in program management, and canceling them," McAleese said.
One possible candidate for cancellation would be the second phase of a multibillion program to build a new presidential helicopter, a program that recently exceeded congressional thresholds, triggering a national security review, he said.
Canceling one or two key programs would "really get people's attention," said McAleese. "That would do more for acquisition reform than two years of policy writing."
Meanwhile, Gates has asked Air Force Secretary Michael Donley to stay on his job, said a spokesman for the service. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)
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